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Interview: Gian Gonzaga of eHarmony

06.02.09

Over the past four years, psychologist Gian Gonzaga has spent his days dissecting love as the lead researcher inside eHarmony Labs, the online dating service’s think tank, where Gonzaga and his colleagues observe and analyze romantic relationships.

The company operates on the theory that partners need to share certain key characteristics to better their chances of a successful long-term relationship. We caught up with Gonzaga to talk about that theory and what he has learned about love during his tenure at eHarmony.

Q. So what are the core qualities partners should share if they want their love to last?

A. The big ones — some of the most powerful ones — are personality traits. Things like how agreeable of a person you are, how open you are to experience. Are you extroverted? So are you looking for a lot of interactions in the social world? Or are you introverted?

And why does it matter so much that couples share these traits?

Because if you are similar to someone, it’s a lot easier to understand what it is they’re thinking. … They like to believe that what they think is true, and one of the ways that we do that is to look to other people who have the same interests and beliefs and values. So when we see that in a partner, we feel validated in our sense of self, which makes us feel better and makes us like that person.

What about the adage “Opposites attract”?

The literature says that doesn’t really hold up…. Over the long haul if somebody’s really radically different, and they see the world in a different way, it’s going to be difficult to negotiate those things again and again and again.

You just launched Compatible Partners, which focuses on gay and lesbian relationships. Do the same requirements for shared characteristics apply?

We think so. The existing literature on same-sex couples indicates that a lot of the same theoretical basis of sharing the same deep values is going to predict better relationships over the long haul. So right now we’re moving on the assumption that the same kinds of models are going to apply well, and then over time we’ll work on that model to tailor it as best as possible.

Any surprises in your four years at the love lab?

In 2005 we found that there were 90 people a day who got married off of eHarmony. That was a great number; we were happy about it. And two years later, it turns out 236 people a day got married after meeting on the service, or like 44,000 couples a year. I just remember hearing that number the first time and thinking that can’t possibly be right. We checked the numbers again and again and again. The idea that about 2 percent of all the marriages in the United States come out of our system? Really cool.

 

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